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Literature


Not Writing

#bakingnotwriting

#bakingnotwriting

 

Soon after I signed the contract for my second novel, my agent at the time suggested that I start writing reviews. She explained, “First novels are easy. You get lots of reviews without much trying, but with a second novel, it’s much harder. The way to get reviews for your own book is to write them.” It sounded like a terrible idea—I would only want to write reviews for books that I loved. If the book were bad or even mediocre, I could only think of how much time would be wasted. And then I hated the idea of saying mean things in print about another writer’s work even if the book were abysmal. I had noticed in the New York Times Book Review that the editors seemed to assign titles in two ways—they either gave the book to someone who wrote similar work and would be likely to praise it, or to someone whose work was so dissimilar that they were likely to loathe it. I decided to ignore the advice, although I felt a pang when my second novel was published and it received only seven mainstream reviews (less than a quarter of what the first novel had garnered).

After declining to write reviews, about five years ago I decided that I would no longer write jacket blurbs for other writers. I thought that I either had to go the Gary Shteyngart route and offer praise to anyone who asked, or to quit writing blurbs altogether. I admired Shteyngart’s stamina and felt grateful to the people who offered advance praise for my novels—among them Chris Bohjalian, whose graciousness is legendary—but my Armenian Evangelical upbringing had made polite prevarication a painful exercise. Declining all was a way to avoid having to choose, which would hurt people’s feelings, or having to lie, endorsing something about which I felt little to no enthusiasm. Earlier this year when the editor of the American edition of Atef Abu Seif’s The Drone Eats with Me sent me an advanced reading copy (known in the business as an ARC) soliciting a quotation, I told her that while I wasn’t writing blurbs, I would read the book and if I liked it I would write a review. Happily, I loved it, and I wrote a review for In these Times.

As a counter to my literary parsimony, I will say that when I love a book, I loudly share my enthusiasm with friends and on social media platforms. If I adore a book, I will buy a dozen copies and give them as birthday and holiday gifts. Some titles that I have distributed in this way include Vasily Grossman’s An Armenian Sketchbook, Suad Amiry’s Sharon and My Mother-in-Law, and Elena Ferrante’s My Brilliant Friend. My current passion is Anne Boyer’s Garments Against Women, a dazzlingly smart series of prose poems about writing, work, love, parenting, sewing, shopping, literature, philosophy, late capitalism, and not writing. Boyer’s book, full of wry observations, artfully muted fury, as well as surprising humor and tenderness, reminds me of the work of poet Anne Carson and micro-story writer Lydia Davis, except with an explicit class analysis.

Boyer describes a shopping outing with her young daughter, where their meager budget results in sadness and weeping when mother tells the daughter they cannot afford the desired pair of shoes. When the mother is on the verge of tears herself, the daughter admonishes her, “ ‘I am still a child and am learning to control my impulses and emotions. you have had many years of dreams and realities to learn from so there is no excuse for you to cry.’” In “A Woman Shopping,” Boyer outlines a book she would like to write with the same title as the poem. It ends, “But who would publish this book and who, also, would shop for it? And how could it be literature if it is not coyly against literature, but sincerely against it, as it is also against ourselves?”

In an interview posted on the Poetry Foundation site, Boyer explains,

This is probably totally obvious to anyone who has read the book, but I’ll still say it: by “garments,” I mean “literature.” And literature is against us. And when I say “literature,” I mean something with historical specificity, seen with all of its brutality intact, with our own intact too, not as we might define it from its exceptions, despite how these exceptions are honorable and instructive and how much we might ground our work in them.

And this is going to get kind of long, so I apologize for that, but by “us” I actually mean a lot of people: against all but the wealthiest women and girls, all but the wealthiest queer people, against the poor, against the people who have to sell the hours of their lives to survive, against the ugly or infirm, against the colonized and the enslaved, against mothers and other people who do unpaid reproductive labor, against almost everyone who isn’t white—everyone who has been taken from, everyone who makes and maintains the world that the few then claim it is their right to own. And by “against,” many of us know this “literature” contains violent sentiments toward us, is full of painful exclusions, but that isn’t even the core of its opposition to us. How “literature” is also against us is that it is a magic circle drawn around the language games of a class of people—the rich and powerful and those who serve or have served them. It gives (or appears to give, like any mystification) these words a permission and a weight, dangles the ugliness in our faces and names it beauty, gleefully shows off stupidity and claims it as what is wise.

Part of what I admire and identify with here is Boyer’s refusal to bow down to literary gatekeepers while stubbornly continuing to write. In the pieces “Not Writing” and “What is ‘Not Writing,” Boyer describes the forces making writing difficult, if not impossible, for her as a working class woman, a single mother, and an outsider to high “culture.” But the production of these poems defies these obstacles—from illness to envy. She says, “There is envy which is also mixed with repulsion at those who do not have a long list of not writing to do.”

In closing, here is one of my favorite passages in Garments Against Women from “The Innocent Question.”

On the local radio show a man who won a Pulitzer prize in fiction explained that one must write every day because if a person does not write everyday a person forgets how to access the subconscious. If one did not write everyday then whenever a person comes back to writing she would have to learn to write from the beginning again. This has always been my plan. I would like to not know how to write, also to know no words. I believe this prize winning novelist believed that the mind had two places, the conscious and subconscious, and that literature could only come out of the subconscious mind, but that language preferred to live in the conscious one. This is wrong. Language prefers to live on the internet.

 

 

Nancy Kricorian


The Opposite of Coals to Newcastle

Mrs. Alice Kharibian (photo courtesy of Alexandra Kharibian)

Mrs. Alice Kharibian (photo courtesy of Alexandra Kharibian)

 

Last week as I was preparing to head downtown for breakfast with an acquaintance who runs a small press, I considered bringing him a copy of one of my novels. I had known him during my days running a literary scouting business, before having published a book, and hadn’t seen him in years. But wasn’t bringing a book to a publisher akin to carrying coals to Newcastle? In the years that I worked as a literary scout—reading dozens of books, bound galleys, and manuscripts each week—when someone gave me a book as a gift, I felt slightly queasy. It was like what you might experience at the end of a pie-eating contest if someone put another slice of pie in front of you.  

This train of thought reminded me of the time long ago when I went to visit Alice Kharibian, my grandmother’s lifelong friend who was the model for the Arsinee character in Zabelle, my first novel. Mrs. Kharibian had agreed to tell me the story of how she and my recently deceased grandmother had together survived the Deportations of 1915, also known as the Armenian Genocide.  My father and I drove to Jamaica Plain, where Mrs. Kharbian lived, and I brought her a bouquet of flowers.

When I handed her the flowers, Mrs. Kharibian, who was known to be frank, said, “Honey, why did you bring me those? My son’s a florist. You should have brought me some meat.” She put them in a vase nonetheless, and then we sat down for a long session of storytelling with the tape recorder rolling (as the tape did roll in those days).

It was then that she told me about how close to starvation she and my grandmother had been during their days as orphaned girls at Ras al Ain in the Syrian Desert. One of the stories, which I put to use in my novel, was about their finding a dead and rotting camel by the side of the road. The carcass was full of maggots, but they managed to use the ragged lid of a tin can to cut flesh from it and then roasted the meat over an open flame. “We couldn’t stand to eat it,” she told me, “but we sold it to others, and with the pennies we got, we were able to buy some bread.”

On the way home my meat cutter father told me that when he had given my grandmother a ride to her friend’s house, it was his habit to bring Mrs. Kharibian a good cut of meat—steak, sirloin tips, or some lamb chops. 

That afternoon, when Mrs. Kharibian explained to me how she and my grandmother had survived while tens of thousands around them had perished, she said, “Your grandmother was so wishy-washy. If it wasn’t for me telling her what to do, she would have been dead in the desert. I had to be jarbeeg for both of us.” (Jarbeeg is the Armenian word for clever.)

Mrs. Kharibian was clever, tough, and bossy, all of which served her and my grandmother well for survival.  At my grandmother’s funeral, she sat down beside me and said, “We were girls together in the desert. What will I do now without her?”

 

Nancy Kricorian

22 September 2016, New York City


Among The Hedgehogs

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On January 12 at the Tenement Museum, I introduced a book launch event for my friend Dawn Anahid MacKeen. Below are my brief words of introduction.

 

“The fox knows many things, but the hedgehog knows one big thing.” This fragment of verse by the Greek poet Archilochus was famously explored by Isaiah Berlin in his celebrated essay “The Hedgehog and the Fox: An Essay About Tolstoy’s View of History.” Berlin divided thinkers into two categories—the hedgehogs and the foxes—and attempted to argue that Tolstoy was a hedgehog with foxlike tendencies. Berlin later said, “I never meant it very seriously. I meant it as a kind of an enjoyable intellectual game, but it was taken seriously.” And so without taking too seriously either the Archilochus fragment or the Berlin essay, I would like to suggest to you that Dawn and I are hedgehogs. (I have a hunch that Raffi has hedgehog-like tendencies as well, but I don’t know his work broadly enough to make that claim.) When I say that Dawn and I are literary hedgehogs, this is because each of us spent ten years researching and writing our recent books. While the foxes of the writing world were happily producing books at regular, frequent intervals, we were digging into our respective very deep holes, burrowing so deeply, in fact, that at times we even doubted that we’d be able to find our way to the surface again.

In Dawn’s case, these efforts have resulted in the book we are here to celebrate tonight. The Hundred-Year Walk is a meticulously researched, beautifully written, and thoughtful work in which Dawn has woven together memoir, travel chronicle, family lore, and political history. It is a deeply personal story, but as the subtitle indicates—An Armenian Odyssey—it is also part of a community and a communal project.

One hundred years ago, Armenians in the Ottoman Empire were the victims of a horrific crime—the mass annihilation of hundreds of thousands of people, and the near complete erasure of Armenians from the lands where they had lived for many centuries, if not from the beginning of recorded history.  In the face of these devastating losses, most of those who survived were dispersed around the world where they fashioned new families and communities. These communities were bound together by religious institutions, by language, and by shared history. They were also knit together, I would argue, by the stories that they told—stories about the towns and villages that were lost, about the people who died and those who survived, and about their lives in these new lands. These stories were passed from parent to child, and more frequently from grandparent to grandchild.

But these narratives are also produced by the modern-day equivalent of the Armenian ashough or troubadours. In memoirs, novels, histories and poems, post-genocide Armenian writers—many in the Diaspora, and often using the languages of their adopted countries—have created new geographies of connection and belonging—geographies that are not simply stories of return, but stories with motion of their own, that take us to places both grounded in history and unmoored in imagination.

What Dawn has given us in The Hundred-Year Walk is a multi-generational story of resilience and survival. She and Raffi are going to talk to us now about the process of writing the book, as well as about the ways the past, the present, and the future inform and create each other. And after we hear more about Dawn’s and her grandfather’s journeys, I exhort you to buy at least two copies of her book—one for home and one for the road.

 

Nancy Kricorian

New York City


Fiction and Truth

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The Financial Times recently published an excellent interview (done, of course, by email) with Italian writer Elana Ferrante. There are many insightful and inspiring lines in the piece, but among my favorites is this paragraph:

I grew up in a world where it seemed normal that men (fathers, brothers, boyfriends) had the right to hit you in order to correct you, to teach you how to be a woman, ultimately for your own good. Luckily today much has changed but I still think the men who can really be trusted are a minority. Maybe this is because the milieu that shaped me was backward. Or maybe (and this is what I tend to believe) it’s because male power, whether violently or delicately imposed, is still bent on subordinating us. Too many women are humiliated every day and not just on a symbolic level. And, in the real world, too many are punished, even with death, for their insubordination.

As a novelist, I also felt a shock of pleasure and recognition in this sentence from the Ferrante interview: I have not chosen an autobiographical path, nor will I choose it in the future, because I am convinced that fiction, when it works, is more charged with truth. And Ferrante is not alone in this conviction. Doris Lessing once said, “Novels give you the matrix of emotions, give you the flavour of a time in a way formal history cannot.”

As I’m working on my new novel about Armenians in Beirut during the Lebanese Civil War, I’m engaged in my typical obsessive research. This is my painstaking path to historical, psychological, and fictional truth. (I once wrote a short talk about my goals in this regard.) People keep asking, how is the novel going? And in truth I haven’t started writing. I’m still in that phase of research and design where I am building the world in my head. Before my characters can inhabit it, I have to fully furnish it. It also feels as though I’m working on a big, complicated jigsaw puzzle. I now have all the edges done, and am piecing together the interior. Then the writing can begin.

 

Nancy Kricorian

New York City


On Pandering and Whiteness

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Critiques of the whiteness and manliness of mainstream American literary culture have again been winging around the Internet in the past few weeks. Witness Rebecca Solnit’s tongue-in-cheek response to Esquire’s “The 80 Best Books Every Man Should Read.” Solnit’s piece, entitled 80 Books No Woman Should Ever Read, is full of funny zingers. My favorite is, “Ernest Hemingway is also in my no-read zone, because if you get the model for your art from Gertrude Stein you shouldn’t be a homophobic antisemitic misogynist, and because shooting large animals should never be equated with masculinity.”

In response to Solnit, Sigal Samuel penned, “What Women Can Learn from Reading Sexist Male Writers.” Samuel argues, “If reading sexist male writers is recommended for women readers, it’s downright compulsory for women writers. We need to be intimately aware of that language, need to speak it backward and forward, so that we can make our own books relevant and, ideally, cleverly subversive to boot.”

An essay in Tin House that also made a huge splash was by acclaimed young fiction writer Claire Vaye Watkins. “On Pandering” starts off with a personal anecdote about an extremely entitled male writer who visited the campus where she was teaching and complained in a blog post that she had declined to let him share her bed. From there she discusses the way that her literary career has been shaped by watching and emulating “the boys.” She says:

I wanted to write something Cormac McCarthy would like, something Thomas Pynchon would come out of hiding to endorse, something David Foster Wallace would blurb from beyond the grave. I have been reenacting in my artmaking the undying pastime of my girlhood: watching boys, emulating them, trying to catch the attention of the ones who have no idea I exist.

The essay was well written and compelling, and I posted it to Twitter, writing,

“On Pandering” Every woman writer I know should read this essay. #feminism

My friend Randa Jarrar responded “Meh,” and I replied, “As a person who doesn’t pander but often feels marginal it was an affirmation of my choices.” We then had an interesting back and forth about the fact that as Randa put it, “Some white woman writer just realized what writers of color have known forever. And Tin White House published it.” A few other writers jumped into our conversation, which also included a discussion about whether Armenians and Arabs are white, and what “whiteness” is. It turns out that we weren’t the only ones having this kind of conversation, and Alison Herman on Flavorwire compiled some of the Tweets. And then this week a piece appeared on The Guardian in which Jamaican writer Marlon James is quoted as saying that writers of color are forced to pander to white women.

All of this made me think back on my last author newsletter in which I asked for suggestions about contemporary literary novels that deal with class inequality in America. The only recent work I could think of was Dan Woodrell’s WINTER’S BONE. I realized that my ideas about class were unconsciously restricted to “white” writers. For example, I didn’t think of Louise Erdrich’s bestselling THE ROUND HOUSE as a candidate because it was a “Native American novel” not a “class novel.” It appears that I’ve got to up my intersectionality game!

 

Nancy Kricorian

New York City

 


Neapolitan Pizza and Armenian Art

 

Silvina Der-Meguerditchian, Treasures, 2015

Silvina Der-Meguerditchian, Treasures, 2015

 

My Ferrante Fever has abated, but for those of you still in the throes of it, you might want to make Neapolitan pizza or the pistachio creampuffs mentioned in My Brilliant Friend. You might have missed this piece on The Neapolitan Novels as the “anti-epic Epic,” or this one from the Los Angeles Review of Books comparing them to Ta-Nehisi Coates’s Between the World and Me.

Now that I’ve left Naples behind, at least for the moment, I’m back in Beirut during the Lebanese Civil War. I’m currently reading B as in Beirut by Iman Humaydan Younes. One of the four women narrators says, “Men’s fingers stay on the triggers while women look for a safe place for their children.”

Sad to say this piece is the fruit of my final collaboration with Enas Fares Ghannam through the We Are Not Number project. She has a new mentor, and I will start with another young writer in January. But I’m thrilled for her–this is her first ‘official’ publication, and it’s a beautiful essay: “A Neighborhood Ripped Apart in Gaza.”

I’ve been enjoying my semester as Writer-in-Residence at the Kevorkian Center for Near Eastern Studies at New York University. The writing workshop has one more session to go, I did my outreach program presentation for high school teachers last week, and the public event is coming up on November 9th. For those of you in New York City, I hope you will join us on November 9th at the panel discussion entitled Art And Memory: Looking Back and Moving Forward on the Centennial of Armenian Genocide. “Art critic and Hyperallergic editor-in-chief Hrag Vartanian will moderate a conversation about art making, identity, and memory with visual artist Silvina Der-Meguerditchian, photographer Diana Markosian, and novelist Nancy Kricorian.” There will be an associated exhibit of works by Silvina and Diana that will be on display at The Kevorkian Center from November 9th until February 5th.

For the 30th Anniversary celebration of the New York Foundation for the Arts’ Artists Fellowship Program, my novels will be on display as part of Stacks: Three Decades of Writing Fellows with an Installation by Anne Munges. I’ll be at the opening on November 13th, and if you’re in the city, I hope you’ll stop by.

And finally, here is a video by the Lebanese alternative rock band Mashrou’ Leila. It took some work and the help of friends, but James and I managed to snag two tickets to their sold-out show at Le Poisson Rouge on Saturday, October 31. Now that will be some fun.

 

This is the late October issue of my author newsletter. If you’d like to be added to the distribution list, send a note to nkbookgroup@gmail.com.

 

Nancy Kricorian

New York City


Ferrante Fever (2)

The Neapolitan Novels by Elena Ferrante

The Neapolitan Novels by Elena Ferrante

 

Coincident with the September 1st launch of the fourth and final installment of Elena Ferrante’s NEAPOLITAN NOVEL (if you haven’t read them yet, I recommend that you do so immediately), a flurry of reviews, articles and interviews were published. For those of you new to Ferrante, she is an Italian novelist who writes under a pen name and refuses to give in-person interviews or to do public readings, book signings or any other of the promotional work required of authors. (She is NOT on Facebook or Twitter either.)

There was an excellent interview in VANITY FAIR Magazine that started by describing the literary wars going on in Brooklyn: Karl Ove Knausgaard versus Elena Ferrante. Knausgaard is a Norwegian writer who produced a six-volume autobiographical novel entitled MY STRUGGLE. I asked a clerk at the cash register of Book Culture, our local independent bookseller, if there had been arguments among staff about the merits of the two authors—both of them having written recent much praised bestselling multi-volume autobiographical novels. Yes, she told me, each of the authors had passionate champions. I asked, “Does it break down along gender lines?” She said, “No.” But the woman behind the next register said, “Are you kidding? The women prefer Ferrante, and the men swear by Knausgaard.”

Having read all of Ferrante’s novels now available in English, and having made it through two and one half books of Knausgaard’s MY STRUGGLE, I know where my loyalties lie, although I do admire both works.

The London Review Bookshop posted on their blog a letter Ferrante wrote to her publisher before the launch of her first novel in 1991. Her words on book promotion were bracing and funny:

“I do not intend to do anything for TROUBLING LOVE, anything that might involve the public engagement of me personally. I’ve already done enough for this long story: I wrote it. If the book is worth anything, that should be sufficient. I won’t participate in discussions and conferences, if I’m invited. I won’t go and accept prizes, if any are awarded to me. I will never promote the book, especially on television, not in Italy or, as the case may be, abroad. I will be interviewed only in writing, but I would prefer to limit even that to the indispensable minimum.”

Slate published a short piece about the publisher’s decision to use “low-class” images on Ferrante’s novels, and the author’s acquiescence in this decision. The Economist ran a piece about how “a four-volume feminist novel has become an unlikely global hit.” The Atlantic published an interview with Ferrante’s American translator. And then cap it all off and prove how mainstream #FerranteFever had become, Entertainment Weekly ran an interview with the writer.

I won’t catalogue the many ecstatic reviews (you can look those up yourself), but after reading the novels, you might want to visit Ischia, an island off Naples where the novel’s narrator and heroine Elena spends time in the summer, and you might want to check out a travel piece about the place from The Guardian (with requisite quotations from the books). I’m dreaming of a trip to Naples, and hope by the time I get there an entrepreneurial guide will have a devised a walking tour of Ferrante’s City.

At this point, I have over a dozen friends and family members who have read and loved MY BRILLIANT FRIEND and the other books in the series. I’m thinking of hosting a #FerranteFever dinner in a few weeks after everyone has finished book four so we can discuss the puzzling, maddening and probably brilliant ending (don’t worry—no spoilers here!).

 

Nancy Kricorian

New York City


“Standing With, But Not Standing For”

PEN Literary Gala

PEN Literary Gala

 

This week, controversy erupted when six writers who were scheduled to be “table hosts” at PEN’s Gala Fundraiser on May 5th pulled out of the event because they didn’t believe that French newspaper Charlie Hebdo should be awarded the PEN/Toni and James C. Goodale Freedom of Expression Courage Award. This was first reported in the New York Times, and then Glenn Greenwald posted about it at The Intercept, also including the texts of letters exchanged between some PEN members and PEN Executive Director Suzanne Nossel.

This morning I was among the first thirty PEN members to sign an open letter on the issue. The circulation of the open letter was reported by Vulture this afternoon, and now there are discussions raging in the comments sections of various articles, on Twitter and Facebook, with people lining up on one side or other of the debate. As this is going on, more writers are adding their names to the open letter.

My spouse James Schamus offered a clarifying comment.

I mourn the terrible murders of the Charlie Hebdo staff.

I stand in solidarity with those who fight against the scourge of intolerance, censorship and bigotry.

 I know that the defense of free speech and a free press means defending principles that allow, in practice, for speech that offends and that is often, at its worst, even hateful.

 But defending the rights of all to free expression should not require of me the obligation to award, condone, or applaud any particular expression, even expression made by those who have been cruelly and violently silenced.

 I will stand beside Charlie Hebdo and all others in the fight to guarantee freedom of expression for all. I will not, however, stand and applaud for Charlie Hebdo, at a gala awards dinner or anywhere else. 

I am not Charlie Hebdo.

 

UPDATE:

2 May 2015

The list of signatories has grown to close to 200 by this morning, and the vitriol against the writers who signed is intense. I am dismayed that some people don’t seem to understand the distinction between supporting Charlie Hebdo’s RIGHT to publish what they will and declining to support the granting of this award. Clearly the damn has broken among New Yorkers who no longer want their commitment to free speech to become conflated with crude bigotry.

 

Nancy Kricorian


Ferrante Fever

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True confession: in ten days, I have read five novels by Elena Ferrante. I picked up a copy of MY BRILLIANT FRIEND, Book One of Ferrante’s Neapolitan novels, at a local bookstore, and tore through the pages in a frenzy. We are introduced to a pair of girls from Naples, Elena and Lila, whose friendship spans from the late forties until the first decade of the 21st century. Elena is our first-person narrator and not always reliable guide, who upon learning that her friend has disappeared at the age of 66, goes back to the first days of their complex, fierce and competitive friendship as young girls. We are plunged into a post-war, working class neighborhood in Naples where life is lived with great intensity and passion. It is also a violent world—men beat their wives, parents beat their children, and children kick their dogs. Elena and Lila are what we would now call “gifted” children. They are determined to use their intelligence and drive to lift themselves out of poverty and to escape from the drudgery and hardship they see in their mothers’ lives.

Who is Elena Ferrante? She writes under a pseudonym, believing that her books should be able to assert themselves without her “patronage,” and has been called “the literary sensation nobody knows.” Many critics, including James Wood in The New Yorker and Rachel Donadio in The New York Review of Books, have been singing her praises. She recently did a Q & A via email with The New York Times.

Her prose, translated from the Italian by Ann Goldstein, is not showy at the level of “craft.” What make the books compelling, even riveting, are the unflinching descriptions of negative emotions and impulses that women experience and usually leave unsaid: terror, fury, jealousy, self-hatred, and more. Ferrante is above all a great storyteller, and there is a narrative drive that makes her work propulsive and addictive.

I’m not going to give a plot summary, but suffice it to say that on the last page MY BRILLIANT FRIEND, Elena describes a shocking scene at the wedding of her best friend Lila. It is a cliffhanger. (As an aside, the term ‘cliffhanger” originates from Thomas Hardy’s 1873 serialized novel A PAIR OF BLUE EYES. A character is hanging from a cliff at the end of one of the chapters, and readers at the time wouldn’t know what happened to the young man until the subsequent chapter ran in the next month’s paper.)

I scurried out to buy Books Two and Three of Ferrante’s series, which I galloped through in quick succession. The fourth and final book was published in Italian towards the end of 2014, and the English translation will appear stateside in September 2015. How could I possibly wait until then? I was suffering from Ferrante Fever. (Yes—there is even a Twitter hashtag #FerranteFever.) I dashed out to the bookstore and bought two of Ferrante’s earlier, shorter novels, THE DAYS OF ABANDONMENT and THE LOST DAUGHTER, which I inhaled within 48 hours. These earlier works are much shorter and less complex in terms of plot and characters than the Neapolitan novels—they feel almost like studies on the themes that are taken up on the broader canvas of MY BRILLIANT FRIEND. I just ordered a copy of TROUBLING LOVE, the one available Ferrante translation I haven’t read, and I’m counting the days until the publication of Book Four of the Neapolitan novels, THE STORY OF THE LOST CHILD.

 

Nancy Kricorian


My Favorite Books of 2014

It’s the time of year when everyone is putting out Top Ten lists and gift recommendations. Here is my minimalist response—three of my favorite books of the year: a graphic memoir by Roz Chast, a collection of poems by Najwan Darwish, and a new translation of a 1935 memoir by Zabel Yessayan. Happy reading and happy New Year!

 

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Roz Chast, Can’t We Talk about Something More Pleasant? Bloomsbury USA (May 2014)

In her first memoir, cartoonist Roz Chast brings her signature wit to the topic of aging parents. Spanning the last several years of their lives and told through four-color cartoons, family photos, and documents, Chast’s memoir is both comfort and comic relief for anyone experiencing the life-altering loss of elderly parents.

 

 

 

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Najwan Darwish, Nothing More to Lose (translated from the Arabic by Kareen James Abu-Zeid), New York Review of Books Poets (April 2014)

Nothing More to Lose is the first collection of poems by Palestinian poet Najwan Darwish to appear in English. Hailed across the Arab world and beyond, Darwish’s poetry walks the razor’s edge between despair and resistance, between dark humor and harsh political realities. With incisive imagery and passionate lyricism, Darwish confronts themes of equality and justice while offering a radical, more inclusive, rewriting of what it means to be both Arab and Palestinian living in Jerusalem, his birthplace.

 

 

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Zabel Yessayan, The Gardens of Silidhar (translated from the Armenian by Jennifer Manoukian), AIWA Press (2014)

This memoir originally published in Armenian in 1935, is a beautiful, evocative narrative of Yessayan’s childhood and a vivid account of Armenian community life in Constantinople (Istanbul) at the end of the nineteenth century. Author, educator, and social activist, Zabel Yessayan (1878-1943) is recognized today as one of the greatest writers in Western Armenian literature.

 

Nancy Kricorian